Melinda Henneberger

What Kansas City mayoral candidate Scott Taylor won’t tell you about Scott Taylor

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Kansas City mayoral candidate profiles

Melinda Henneberger profiles all 11 of the candidates for mayor in Kansas City ahead of the April 2 primary.

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Stuff Kansas City mayoral candidate Scott Taylor likes talking about: Mom and pop businesses, his own mom, musical theater, his 15-year-old son who does theater and the smart wife he followed into local politics. Also, the actor Paul Rudd, who was in his high school class at Shawnee Mission West, the Chiefs games he’s been attending since high school and his work on the Kansas City Council.

What he does not like talking about is just the one thing, really: Scott Taylor.

He does not want to be cast as the hero of his own life story. Or take credit for the kind of family duties that earn women no special attagirls. Or linger on the defining loss of his childhood, his father’s death of a heart attack at age 39, when Scott was 12 and his twin sisters were 3.

“I grew up pretty quick that day,” he says, and that’s it.

His mother, Sharon Taylor, who had sold her hair salon after putting her husband through college, took three jobs after losing him — in a funeral home, a flower shop and an insurance office. And according to one of his sisters, Wendy Lybarger, Scott became a regular babysitter and “awesome father figure.”

“He took us everywhere and was never embarrassed of his little sisters, even though I’m sure we were a trip.” Everywhere included at least one New Kids on the Block concert. “He sucked it up a lot.”

It was her brother who insisted that they have dinner with the TV off every night and discuss current events at the table. “He was always interested in everything,” says his mom Sharon, “and we’d talk about the news over supper.”

As a Mother’s Day gift one year, he got his sisters to perform and record songs from “Footloose” and Lionel Richie with him on pans and bottles. He loved all kinds of music, and Wendy remembers that once, when the Don McLean song “American Pie” came on the radio, he walked his sisters through “every event in it and the historical significance of it.”

During high school, he worked at an AMC movie theater, and “I’d stay up until he came home from work so we could watch ‘The Fall Guy’ together. He was my sounding board.”

Everyone in the family figured he’d go into local politics long before he majored in poli-sci at KU. But he was also managing a series of local AMCs during college, and after graduating into the recession of 1991, he did that for several more years before going to law school at UMKC and at the same time, earning an MBA at Rockhurst University.

AMC paid for part of his MBA, but why law? “Like every lawyer, because I wanted to make a difference.”

Though that’s no more the conventional view of lawyers than it is of journalists or used car salesmen, what appealed to him was the idea that through business law, he might help grow jobs in his community. And while other kids might have had a gauzier idea of what “making a difference” looks like, watching his mother work multiple shifts to make ends meet had convinced him that good jobs were what he most wanted to contribute.

During his first week in law school, he introduced himself to his classmate Cathy Jolly at the soda machine. And when he saw that she had signed up for a project working with Jackson County inmates, he did, too.

Her first impression of him, says his now-wife, is that he seemed so kind, and while others were freaking out about the academic pressure, so positive.

The only story he tells me about himself is this one, about their first date: “Our first paper was due, and I’d finished mine, and she was still working on hers. I’d picked out an Italian restaurant on 39th, and then we were going to the Phoenix to hear some jazz.”

A few hours ahead of time, though, she called to say that she could either have dinner or go to the Phoenix later, but not both. “And that’s why she was in the top 10 percent, and I was in the top half. I had good notes, but hers were tabbed and coded.”

Oh, but that story’s not really about him, either, is it?

Because she’d gone to Mizzou and he to KU, “We’re a house divided,” Cathy says, and in their early years together, when the schools still played one another, the loser had to wear the winner’s team sweatshirt the next day.

Right out of law school, she went to work for Claire McCaskill in the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office, ran for state representative, and later served a term on the City Council. He went into international trade law, representing companies that manufacture goods in the U.S. and export them. For four years, he served on the Center school board near their home in South Kansas City.

Their 15-year-old, Drake, is a competitive tap dancer, and “no matter how big or small anything to do with our son is,” Cathy says, “he’s there.” As a family, they love everything to do with the arts and see a lot of local theater.

On the City Council for the last eight years, he started a microfinance loan program for small businesses that got him invited to the Obama White House, and came up with a renewal program for the East Side. He’s also been a strong proponent of community policing, putting social workers in police patrol districts, and hiring more officers “so we can do community policing.” He tried unsuccessfully to push ethics reform on his colleagues, who wrote that effort off as a mayoral campaign stunt. One of the most pro-business of the candidates, he has a little different idea of what that means. At 50, he sees his life experience as an advantage in this race.

“He loves his work on the council,’’ says Cathy, and comes home excited to relay the highlights of evening meetings that aren’t everybody’s idea of a great time.

Of his disinterest in, or maybe even discomfort with self-promotion — unusual in this social media age and even more so in his line of work — she says, “Scott is a doer. He’s not flashy, with a fancy tie and a speech off the top of his head, but he’s the last man standing until the job is done.”

Unless, of course, the job is talking about himself.

This is one in a series of profiles of candidates for Kansas City mayor.